A New Packing Strategy for Sensible People (Not Me)

I forgot to include this in yesterday’s post.

2012 travel

It really is quite impressive. It’s my travel year in review.

I flew 59,866 miles. My longest flight was between Munich and Bangkok, twice 5,474 miles.

Anyway, our latest trip was a long weekend in Austin, Texas over New Year’s Eve.

Usually, I fret and panic over what to pack for a trip. This trip, I tried to employ a new packing strategy that I read about in the online version of Lucky. The part that really, really resonated with me was this:

When people cancel plans on her claiming “I have to pack,” my friend Deirdre says, “Go upstairs. Put what you’re wearing in a suitcase. Then put in what you wore yesterday. Now put on what you were going to wear tomorrow. Go out, like you were supposed to before you came up with this stupid packing excuse. Sleep, get up, put that same outfit on. Add anything you wear for exercising and a toothbrush, zip the thing, and leave.”

YES, I thought. That’s some sound advice. However, I imagined I would have to amend this idea because (a) Texas is much warmer than DC, so I won’t need all those pesky, bulky sweaters I’ve been slouching around in; (b) it’s New Year’s Eve, which is going to require some going-out clothing, but since that’s the only time we’re really doing it up, I’ll only need the one sparkly outfit; and (c) I have to bring cowboy boots.

Hmmm, sparkly cowboy boots? Two birds, one diamond-like stone.
Hmmm, sparkly cowboy boots? Two birds, one diamond-like stone.

So basically, I completely ignored the advice.

On point A: I checked the weather beforehand, and it was pretty up and down. But honestly, highs in the mid 50s didn’t seem to bad. I brought plenty of plaid button downs and t-shirts to wear underneath, and only one cardigan. But winter is winter, and Austin’s weather was as temperamental as a moody teenager. It rained. It got windy. It drizzled. It was cold. It was mild. It was all over the place. Thank the packing gods I had brought a mid-weight coat, but of course, I forgot an even more useful scarf. And there were times when that coat was too warm or reeked of barbecue smoke. LESSON: Next time, I’ll bring a leather jacket and my much missed scarf. Maybe a bulkier sweater as well, just in case.

On point B: An impromptu girl’s dinner at a very nice restaurant popped up on the schedule. It was nice, but not NYE-outfit-nice. A new gray silk sparkly blouse was hastily procured. A blouse that is alarmingly similar to at least three other silky gray sparkly blouses I had in my closet back home. LESSON: Bring a second nice top or jacket, just in case.

On point C: This is the one where I fell furthest from my packing goals. I brought not one, but two pairs of cowboy boots. Then I bought another pair. Which made me look like a total tourist carrying my Allen’s boot box on the plane because I couldn’t get another pair in my suitcase. Embarrassing. LESSON: If you are thePoeLog going to Austin, you probably will buy another pair of boots. So you better just leave a pair at home so there’s more room in your suitcase for the new ones.

boots

Oh well. There’s always next time. I definitely, DEFINITELY will try to pack light for Peru.

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Food Porn: Meyer’s, Louie Mueller

Before we went to the king of all BBQ festivals, we had our own little mini festival after touching down in Austin.

Last year, my personal-pit-master-for-life XFE and I made the pilgrimage to Lockhart for Smitty’s and Black’s. This year, we went to Elgin for sausage and Taylor for everything awesome about BBQ.

We started about 30 minutes drive from the airport with a stop at Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse. We got there right around lunch and the place was hopping, but no line. We bought about a pound of sausage (beef and pork) to share amongst the four of us, since we knew we’d be having a second lunch in about another 30 minutes.

The sausage is, of course, very good. I like a courser sausage more like the kind you get in Lockhart, but this was good as well, just more smoothly processed. Also, I like a bit more snap in my casing. Again, that’s just a personal preference. We didn’t try any sides other than the standard white bread, onions and pickles that comes with it. I was pretty tempted by the banana pudding though. They had two fancy barbecue sauces, both of which were pretty good. I’d give the honey chipotle one a slight edge because of the smoky flavor from the chipotle.

Meyer’s doesn’t serve beer or alcohol, so I loaded up on a childhood favorite, Big Red. From a fountain machine no less. You can’t get this in DC for some reason.

After refilling our Styrofoam cups and loading back up in the car, we headed north to Taylor to pay our respects at Louie Mueller Barbecue.

XFE and I had Muellers’ at the BBQ festival last year and it was hands down our favorite. It was one of the last spots we visited and even though we were stuffed, we both finished our tasting of brisket and ribs. We loved the thick peppery crust on their brisket and XFE is a beef rib fanatic, so he was very happy. Plus, since the lines at the festival had died down, we were able to just shoot the breeze with the two guys manning the booth (including Wayne Mueller, grandson of Louie), and they were really, really nice guys. We were quite surprised that they didn’t win in any of the categories last year. Redemption was theirs though, and they won People’s Choice for best beef ribs and best sausage this year.

Photo: JW Walthall/EATX
As soon as XFE and I left the 2010 festival, we made a plan to make the drive up to Taylor to go to the restaurant. This year, with Matt and Melissa in tow was the year.

It was amazing. You step up on the wooden porch, open the screen door and step back in time. It is a time machine. As your eyes adjust to the darkness of the interior, your nose is overloaded with the smell of smoke. You take in the cavernous room with its blackened walls, including a James Beard Award casually hung behind the coke machine.

The counter to place your order is about a mile from the door and the line runs straight back. But it moves, so better hop into it. To the right is a bulletin board covered in business cards, each a different shade of smoke-tinge. To the right is another, brighter dining room — a screened in porch with beam rafters and exposed iron farm equipment.

So yeah….the place was long on atmosphere. 

And the food didn’t disappoint either. Of course, we ordered way too much, but what can I say? We ordered a pound of brisket, a selection of their three sausages (original, jalapeno and chipotle), several ginormous 1 pound beef ribs the size of a man’s arm, and a couple of slabs of pork ribs (baby back, but they also have spare ribs). Again, no sides necessary. And they have sauce on the table, but it’s a thin sauce and didn’t look like a sauce I would like, so I skipped it.

The sausage was coarser ground than Meyer’s and de-freaking-licious. I think the jalapeno was the crowd favorite. It was a bit greasy, but that’s what the bread is for. Also: they smoke it, which really brings out the flavor.

The beef ribs were very good and flavorful, with that thick peppery crust, although I’m not a fan of beef ribs in general – too fatty for my liking. But these were good, although there was no way I could take a whole one down. It was quite a bit of work and I barely made a dent.

The brisket was good – smoky and tender — but not quite as good as we remembered it. The crust wasn’t as pronounced as I had remembered. It was probably an off slice because when we tried it at the festival the next day, we again fell in love all over again. The festival version was moist and delicious.

Also: I’m getting a teeny bit brisket spoiled because XFE makes the best brisket in the whole damn world. We’re talking the kind of brisket you beg for on your birthday good. We’re talking last-meal-on-death-row good. We’re talking willing-to-commit-a-crime-just-to-get-on-death-row-and-request-it-for-your-last-meal good. But Mueller’s will do in a pinch.

The pork ribs were disappointing. I did not like them at all. But again, I’d always try them again, if given the chance. I know how these things can fluctuate day by day.

The counter staff and everyone overall could not have been nicer. Walter Mueller saw Melissa and me taking pictures of everything and came walking out with a large brisket — straight out of the smoker — and asked us if we wanted to take a picture of it.

That's a damn good looking brisket. And tasty.

Way different than the snooty attitude we have gotten at some restaurants on the picture-taking front. I’ll never understand why you would be offended that someone wanted to take a picture of all your hard work. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Alinea. Walter has it right….he’s proud of what he produces and he’s happy to share it with you. It made a huge impression on me, and he’s got a superfan for life.

Hands down, my new favorite BBQ place in Texas. Go. Bring a cooler. Buy lots. Take it home and hoard it. Oh, and look for thePoeLog business card on the bulletin board (it’s the purple one in the middle there).

Another Reason Michael Vick is a Jerk

Welcome to Meatville. Population: 3,000

The main thing to know about this year’s Texas Monthly BBQ festival is that I threw up.

That puts thePoeLog household at two-for-two on throwing up after the BBQ festival. They should probably hire us as spokespeople.

Last year was my meat-lover-for-life XFE’s shot at toilet glory. This year was all me.

(*Disclaimers: Neither of us threw up while we were actually AT the festivals. What kind of uncouth people do you think we are? Also: Our propensity to gorge and purge has nothing to do with the quality of festival meat products. Er, well, it does, actually, but it has more to do with the exceedingly high quality of the food, not because it’s bad or tainted. It’s not a repeat of the Great Salami Food Poisoning of Northern Italy 2011 [GSFPNI2011 for short]. Also2:  The newby festival goers we brought, our friends Matt and Melissa, did just great. No reported vomiting.)

Matt & Melissa: Hardcore festival goers. Appreciators of chicken shit bingo in dive bars.

We had a good strategy. After last year’s debacle of eating our own tastings at every single place (there were 21 restaurants in all), we decided this year to share tastings (there were 23 restaurants this year). We slipped up a couple of times and ate our own tastings, but overall, we did pretty well. We also stopped at Franklin’s booth twice for brisket, but it was really, really amazing brisket. Totally justified. And, by the way, they did win for People’s Choice for best brisket, so obviously, we were correct.

Our strategy also included skipping any sides (I did have some potato salad from Country Tavern). I also succumbed to some fried pies from the originally named The Original Fried Pie Shop. And we stopped eating anything that we didn’t deem just wonderful, and yes, there were a couple of places that weren’t very good. We left the festival quite full, but declared ourselves not stuffed.

Good thing they were giving away Tide pens. No really, they were.

We followed up with a visit to Ginny’s Little Longhorn for some chicken shit bingo and more beers. So far, so good. (Oh, do you not know about chicken shit bingo? It’s exactly what it sounds like: You put a chicken in a cage with numbers on a board. You buy a ticket for $2. You watch the chicken walk around. You drink $2 Lone Stars. You listen to Hank Williams’ songs on the bar’s sound system. Perhaps you avail yourself of the free hot dog and garnishes Ginny provides on a side table. Finally, the chicken poops. If the chicken poops on your number, you win the pot.)

Eventually, after not winning the pot, we finagled a cab back to the downtown area and decided to go to a bar. And that’s when things started to go downhill for this little Poe. There was queso and spinach dip. And unfortunately, an ill-advised shot made with mango puree, cilantro, and tequila.

Tequila is no friend of mine. It makes me ornery. I must have argued/shouted at Melissa about whether Michael Vick had sufficiently paid his debt to society for ages. For the record: I said [quite loudly] no. The much-more-forgiving-Melissa says yes. She’s wrong, by the way.)

Needless to say, I woke up in bed at 4 in the morning full of embarrassment over fighting with my friend and a queasy, sloshy stomach. I fought it, but eventually I had to succumb, knowing that XFE–who has been the subject of my relentless teasing for the past year–was about to tie this one up.

He was quite gracious in victory, only mentioning his pleasure in the situation once that morning.

(Final note: Can I just remind everybody that I did get up and run a race the morning of the BBQ festival. Sympathy? Anyone? No? Tough crowd.)  

 

Run Review: Run for the Water 5k, Austin, Texas

I’m back! OK, what did I miss? I mean, Kim and Kris are still happy young newlyweds, right? And Jessica Simpson is totally not preggers, right? And Rick Perry gave an amazingly awesome speech in New Hampshire that’s going to help him regain the top of the polls, right?

Oh, so…..none of those things are accurate?

Well, I wouldn’t know, because I was eating and shopping my way through Austin. Yee-haw!

Also: I ran a race. So let’s start with that.

I'm right up there in the front somewheres. Not.

I ran the 2011 Run for the Water 5k, which helps the Gazelle Foundation secure access to clean water in the small African country of Burundi. There was also a 10-miler and a kids run. There were about 3,000 participants between the 10-miler and the 5k. They also had barefoot divisions in both categories, to which I say, hell to the no thanks. I don’t know if they cap the number of race participants, but they seemed pretty pleased with the numbers. I registered kinda late, September 13 and the fee was just $17.

The race took place at 7 am on Sunday, October 30 and it started and ended on the First Street bridge right in front of RunTex, a popular Austin running store. It was cold and dark when we started (I think the temp was around 50 degrees), but it was nice to watch the sun coming up as you ran back to the bridge at 7:30 am.

We were staying at the W Hotel on Lavaca and 2nd, so I had a short walk over to the start. Interesting note: the course went past the (fairly sparse) Occupy Austin folks who are camped out at the City Hall, but there were no comments or heckling or anything like I might have expected. The police had cracked down the night before and arrested 38 of the occupiers, so maybe that had something to do with the silent treatment.

Bag and tag pickup was pretty easy. You could pick up bags at RunTex beginning on Friday. I went on Saturday and there was no line or anything. The swag bag had the assorted promos for upcoming races, a voucher for a free Whataburger with purchase of sides, a pretty nice 2012 calendar featuring water projects in Burundi, and a sweet bright blue tech shirt. As we all know, I only care about the tech shirt.

I did not wear my shirt at the race. That's kind of lame. But I did wear it to the gym last night. So, here you go.

 

The race was supposed to start with the 10 mile runners at 7, but I don’t think it actually started until about 7:08. After both the Burundi and U.S. national anthems, the race started. Then the 5k participants were called to the start line. We started a tad bit late as well, but I don’t remember the time. There were no corrals or pacers, you just kinda started wherever.

Which brings me to another important point: The main thing to remember if you are planning on running in an Austin race is that folks are way more chill about this whole racing biz. Some folks were running, some were walking, some just wanted to show their support for their running buddies by bringing their kids in a red wagon onto the course. Nobody seemed very competitive or like they were going for a personal record. So, you might have to bob and weave around some pretty laid back folks, their kids, their dogs, their grandparents. It almost seemed more like a parade than a race at times. It was definitely a less “runner” vibe than I get at a lot of the DC races. Don’t get me wrong: everybody’s very nice, they’re just not in a big hurry to get this race thing going.

The course was an out-and-back. I would not call it a flat course: there was a long uphill portion near the halfway point, but I’ve seen worse. The course support was provided by Keller Williams Realty and was pretty good. Lots of folks were out there to direct, which became pretty important when the two races split. I think there was one water station that you hit on the way out and back, and I saw Porta Potties at one point. No VIP potties though, so I didn’t stop.

My goal in all races is generally the same: don’t walk. I always try to run the whole race. This was a good race for me. I did not walk, and I finished in 30 minutes, 21 seconds, which is respectable. I came in 147th among the 5k women; 322 overall place in a field of 813; and 55th within my age group.

There were 493 women in the 5k and the average women’s pace was 37 minutes, so I did better than the average, which is great. Hell, I even did better than the average man, who came in at 31 minutes. Of course, the first place women’s finisher came in at 20 minutes, 38 seconds; and the first place man crossed at 16 minutes, 41 seconds. But, who’s counting.

The after party was pretty great as well. Whataburger was giving out breakfast taquitos and I saw several local businesses giving away breakfast tacos and coffee as well. No Juan in a Million though.

I almost never hang out after a race and this one was no exception. I grabbed a banana, a granola bar and a water and left since I was (a) cold; and (b) I planned on being back to the hotel by 8 am. By the way, I did not bring my camera and take any pictures, which I know is kinda lame, but I was just focused on getting the race done. Sorry. I’ll try not to be so lame in the future. Also: race pictures still aren’t available.

Oh, by the way, the first place finisher for the 10 mile race was Scott MacPherson from Cedar Park, TX. And he was hitting the finish line as I was walking back to the W. Turns out, he finished the whole race in 48 minutes, 49 seconds. That is INSANE. Much props to that dude. I take longer than that just getting ready to go for a run.

This guy is kinda fast. But I'm sweatier, so I think that means I'm working harder.

No Time to Blog. Stuffing My Face with BBQ.

No, seriously, I’m at the Texas Monthly BBQ festival right now stuffing my face. We dragged these fine people here along with us.

I’ll have a couple of posts about the weekend next week; including, obviously, LOTS of food posts, and a race review of the Run for the Water 5k.

In the meantime, I thought you might like to read a little essay I wrote about my eating-buddy-for-eternity XFE and my efforts to get into the festival last year. Needless to say, we were a whole lot more on the ball this year. We even bought the damn VIP passes.

 

(Sidenote: XFE and I were watching the season finale of the “Rachel Zoe Project” last week, which featured a backyard party for Team Z. The deadbeat husband Roger said he was “barbecuing,” and XFE piped up to correct him, noting: “That’s not barbecuing, that’s grilling.” I have never been so proud in my entire life. XFE might be more Texan than me at this point.)

Here, without further ado, is my 2010 essay: “No Sauce, No Forks, No Tickets”

We bought our BBQ festival tickets from a scalper. There, I said it, and I’m not ashamed.

Our friendly scalper, Will, showed up at the Hotel San Jose on Sunday morning, wearing one of two Dallas Cowboy shirts we would see him in that day, with a wide open face and two coveted tickets.

We paid more than we wanted —$200 for the pair—and we didn’t even try to haggle. We wanted them that bad. And later that day, with the sweat running ticklish trails down our backs, our lips and chins shining with meat grease, and our bellies painfully distended, we looked at each other and agreed it had been totally worth it.

Please understand:  my boyfriend and I are good people. We volunteer, we donate to charity, we, generally, obey the law. It didn’t start out this way, this descent into illegal activity. Let me explain.

I first heard about the BBQ festival in my March issue of Texas Monthly. A transplanted Texan now living outside Washington DC, my Texas Monthly is a lifeline to my roots. We tore out the “save the date” announcement and put it on our fridge. A few weeks later, my boyfriend XFE booked our flights and hotel.  The lack of actual festival tickets did not seem so great of a problem to us. We’d get them when they became available. No big deal.

A few months went by with nary a peep on the event. It would come up in conversation once in a while, but nothing beyond speculating about what venue it might be held at, or how much the tickets might be.

Finally, tickets were available. I filled my checkout cart with two. I had my wallet out and was about to purchase when my boss stopped by my cube to shoot the breeze. Now, my boss is not a man of the meat. He’s not a vegetarian or anything, but he’s not spending his weekends perfecting his sauce or fretting over whether to use a mop, a rub or a fork. He would never understand the significance of interrupting me when I was trying to purchase BBQ festival tickets. But he’s my boss, so I didn’t think it would be prudent to blow him off.

My boss and I chit-chatted for maybe 10 minutes – I don’t even know about what. But in that time, my checkout cart had timed out. I tried to checkout again, adding two more tickets to my cart – no dice. It was recommended that I try again later. I did try again later that same day, only to find that the festival was now sold out.

We tried to console ourselves. “It’s ok, we’ll do our own BBQ festival,” or “They probably won’t get all the good places to come out,” and “maybe someone we know got some extras or knows somebody at Texas Monthly.” We monitored Craig’s List and Ebay, but no one was giving up their tickets. I think it says a lot about Texans love of barbecue when they aren’t even willing to make a sizeable profit by selling tickets to a sold out event. Instead, I saw listing after listing titled “WTB,” which I later realized meant “Want to Buy.” Our festival dreams were not looking good.

We got on the plane from DC to Austin with heavy hearts and empty bellies –we planned to do our own barbecue tour when we landed that Friday. We drove to Lockhart, passing fields of cotton and tollway construction, on a hot mid-September day. After eating at two of the three of the holy trinity – Black’s and Smitty’s – we drove to Austin and checked into the San Jose. Neither of us mentioned the festival, but it was hanging as heavy in the air as the smoke that clung to our clothes.

We proceeded to numb the pain with two days of queso and Shiner Bock. We contemplated a Saturday morning trip out to Snow’s in Lexington. We ate Amy’s Ice Cream. Still, the unspoken regret lay heavy between us.

The morning of the festival, we lounged around the hotel room. We had done most of what we wanted to do in Austin – we’d been to Broken Spoke, we’d ordered boots at Allen, we’d watched the UT –Texas Tech game at a bar on 6th Street, we’d had our picture taken with the fiberglass Bevo in the old parking lot at the University of Texas Co-op. But there was still one more thing we wanted to do – the whole reason for the trip – the BBQ festival.

XFE was the one to suggest it, an hour before the event’s start time. Why don’t we check Craig’s List again? Sure enough, there were two people offering to sell tickets – for considerably more than their face value. But, it was the reason for the trip. Will called first.

We saw Will a couple more times that day, mostly when we were resting between multiple tastings. We went to all 19 vendors, starting out eager and hungry, each getting our own servings, savoring each bite, finishing all the meat, washing it down with Shiner after Shiner. We took diligent notes, comparing the crust and smoke of the various places, noting which ones had not quite lived up to the hype and which ones were surprises.

After the 11th plate, we started to slow down, sharing a tasting, maybe skipping a rib here or a side of beans there. The last four spots were really just endurance…..my jaw hurt from chewing. I couldn’t tell the difference between a beef and pork rib anymore, all the sausages began to run together. One of the notes for one of the restaurants on my tasting card says “don’t remember.”

We did not make it till the end of the day. We had to scoot up town to get to Ginny’s Little Longhorn for chicken shit bingo. So, we left before the fan favorites were announced (although, not before texting our own favorite: Louis Mueller’s).

The only question now is: how quick do you think the tickets are going to sell out next year?

 

Food Porn: Juan in a Million’s The Don Juan

Even as you read this, I am hurtling through the sky, heading to God’s Country, aka Texas. Specifically, Austin.

I got my bachelor’s degree in Austin at the fine University of Texas. Took me seven years. And, if you’ve ever been to Austin, you know why it took me seven years. Why would you hurry through school when you’re living in the greatest place in the world? Plus, the pace in Austin is a lot more laid back than say, Washington DC. To point: it only took me about 18 months to get my master’s here in DC.

Austin is known for many, many things. It’s the state capital. It’s the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital. There’s the 40 Acres of UT. But when I think of Austin (and I do think of Austin. A lot, actually.) I think of one thing: breakfast tacos.

Breakfast tacos are apparently a uniquely Texan, and specifically Austin, phenomena. It’s virtually impossible to find them here in DC. I don’t know why. It doesn’t make sense. DC is a place full of very important, very busy people who eat on the go. But for some reason, people here haven’t figured out the essential awesomeness of this super filling, grab-and-go breakfast.

I grew up on breakfast tacos in El Paso. Hell, our high school concession stand sold AWESOME breakfast tacos (I used to buy the potato, egg and green chile ones). I’ve had great breakfast tacos in Dallas (Uncle Julio’s comes to mind), and San Antonio, and even Odessa. But Austin is where breakfast tacos are elevated to a true art form.

There are a lot of places you can buy breakfast tacos in Austin, and there is a lot of debate over the best tacos. Everyone has their favorite and will drive miles out of their way to go to their spot.

I’ve eaten breakfast tacos at a lot of places in Austin. Back in my heyday, there weren’t too many places I didn’t try. I’ve gotten tacos at roach coaches, convenience stores, gas stations, co-ops, even a Laundromat (on Manor Road). I’ve tried all kinds and combinations of tacos – chorizo; potato, egg and cheese; migas; egg and refried beans; egg and sausage; bacon, egg and cheese; egg and avocado. I’ve even eaten vegan breakfast tacos (tofu).

But my hands down favorite breakfast taco any place, anywhere has got to be Juan in a Million’s The Don Juan.

You might have seen Juan in a Million on an episode of Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food, which seriously pissed me off because I didn’t want (more) people to know about Juan in a Million. But, now that a little time has passed, and I’ve begun to admit that I am also now, technically, an interloper at Juan’s, I’ve made peace with the fact that The Don Juan is popular, but it hasn’t let its popularity go to its egg-head.

Now, Juan in a Million is not in a fancy part of town. You drive east on First Street through downtown Austin, crossing I-35 and enter a whole different universe. First Street becomes East Cesar Chavez. You roll past dozens of places selling colorful piñatas, stucco office buildings offering legal and immigration services, and tire shops. Parking is gonna be sketch, and you’ll probably have to park on a residential side street full of single-story houses with front yards festooned in religious statues, drying laundry, and colorful pinwheels, and protected by baying dogs of indistinguishable breeds.

Juan in a Million is in a low-slung unassuming building (peach stucco with a greenish roof) and probably crowded, but the service is quick and the wait won’t be long. In the years I’ve been going there, the Juan Empire has expanded greatly. There are now a variety of seating options — indoor, outdoor, in a hall that looks like it might double as a reception spot for a quinceanera. The chairs and tables are all white plastic (outside) or restaurant-style imitation wood (inside) and ready for heavy breakfast taco duty.

The Don Juan is the perfect heaping blend of scrambled egg, potato, cheese, bacon and tortilla. It’s impossible to distinguish where the egg ends and the pillowy soft potato begins. This amalgamation is further enhanced by the large, salty, smoky chunks of – wait, it’s not even fair to call it bacon, they’re really more like, pork lardons. And they don’t skimp on the bacon at all.

Then, there’s the cheese. Oh holy creaminess. It might seem weird, but The Don Juan’s cheese reminds me of the government cheese we used to get for free when I was a kid. It came in these huge blocks (like 5 pounders) and was sorta like a more firm version of Velveeta.

Then there’s the salsa, which is mind-blowingly good and cuts through all the breakfast taco goodness, adding quite a bit of heat to the whole enterprise. It’s spicy, but so delicious you can’t stop shoveling chip-fulls of it into your mouth, even if you’re mouth is on fire.

I hear Juan in a Million has other things on its menu (XFE orders a side of guacamole and a side of chorizo), but I’m not interested. I’ve probably been going there for about 16 years (including every weekend for the entire duration of a two-year relationship), but I have never been tempted to stray. I always order The Don Juan with an extra tortilla. It’s huge – there’s no way to finish it. And the whole thing costs around $4.

I cannot wait to eat there this weekend.

Next Up, Sports Illustrated

A few weeks ago, I took part in a very special photo shoot at the pool at the W Hotel in Austin. It was pretty nerve-wracking. I was so nervous. I went on a 60-day cleanse, banning all carbs, alcohol, sweets. I subsisted on kale and sparkling water. I worked out extra, extra hard. I did thousands of crunches, millions of planks, zillions of lunges, and kajillions of tricep dips. Anyway, here are the stunning results.

Here I am lounging on the edge of the pool. I had to seriously suck in my stomach here. Can you tell? Why yes, I am wearing a Juicy Couture bikini! Good eye!

This is a particularly sassy pose, making use of the handrail. I think my booty looks particularly good in this pose. Can you see it?

This one was particularly fun. I kept jumping up and spraying water everywhere. You can totally see the sun glistening off the water spray. Right?

This is me, twirling happily in the Austin sun. You can make it out, right?

Wow. This is such a good one. Giselle Budchen called right about then and invited me to a pose off, but I said, “Can’t. Too busy. Maybe next time. Tell Tom I said whassup.”

Geeze, will you look at that tone and superfit model down there? I mean, come on. Every eye at the pool was totally on me. Heads on a swivel, yo.

So that’s the photo shoot, an XFE Entertainment Studio Production Ltd. LLC Inc. project. I am sooo relieved that’s over with and now I can go back to my regular schedule of eating loaves of bread and butter and drinking my body weight in Shiner Bock. Photo shoots, huh? So stressful!

Hey, speaking of eating too much and pigging out: Be sure to check back in tomorrow for a pretty awesome post about an little event we call Porktober.

Hotel Crashing: The W Austin

Aaaannnnd, I’m back! Did you miss me? I would say I missed blogging, but that’s kind of a lie. OK, let’s just say I did miss blogging (there was plenty of brag-worthy stuff to share), but I drowned my sorrows in copious amounts of barbecue, queso, and chicken fried steak.

That's right. There are men chopping brisket behind me.

But, my absolute favorite pain-numbing agent while I was torn away from my blog was actually a hotel.

See, unlike my little friends who just travelled on North Korea’s first cruise ship, XFE and I were ensconced in luxury at the W Hotel in Austin. And man, was it swanky. Total rock star treatment for three great nights. 

The W Austin is located in the new and trendy 2nd Street district, which meant plenty of shops and eating within walking distance. We ate at two nearby places including the newly-opened and very good pizza and wine place, Coal Vines (I had an amazingly awesome pizza with ricotta and tomatoes when I arrived in Austin late Thursday night, well after regular dinner time) and the newest outpost of hipster hangout Jo’s coffeeshop (I can only vouch for the chorizo breakfast tacos – decent, not great).

XFE also ate at Lambert’s (without me that Thursday night), but was disappointed. He’s become quite the brisket snob, and thought that while the crust on Lambert’s brisket was good, there wasn’t enough smoke on the meat. In case you were curious.

But back to the W. Thanks to XFE and his platinum Starwood status, we got upgraded to a “cool corner” suite, which has three rooms – a living room, a bedroom and a bathroom with large Jacuzzi tub, separate shower stall and enclosed toilet.

Design wise, everything had a very cool Western-bohemian aesthetic, with a few nice Austin music touches throughout. There were lots of tufted leather ottomans with oversized hammered silver trays on top of them, tastefully embroidered curtains, and colorful accent pillows on the large gray velvet sectional in the living room. The artwork on the wall reflected the fact that Austin City Limits has a new studio on the property, with pictures of musicians on the walls. The 52-inch TV in the living room was ridiculous.

But perhaps the best part of the corner room was the views. Our corner suite looked out over the rapidly changing downtown landscape and nearby Town Lake. Oh, and that view? It was also available from the Jacuzzi tub.

The toiletries, as with all the W’s we’ve stayed at were Bliss products. Nice extra amenities I hadn’t seen before included individually-wrapped loofah sponges and eye-makeup remover. The bathroom vanity had a mirror with a cool white design etched along the edges that I would totally have stolen if it wasn’t so large. Also, the silvery textured wallpaper was super glamorous. My only quibble with the bathroom was that they just had a regular old shower head in the glass shower. I was expecting one of those rain shower thingies. It just seemed odd to go standard when everything else had been bumped up.

We did use the gym one day – it was huge and very nice. Everything you could possibly need and then some. I did wish the treadmills had fans on them, though. The large windows let in a lot of sunlight and I got pretty sweaty, but that’s par for the course with me.

Since we’ve both been to Austin a few times now (and are returning again in October), we spent most of our down time at the pool, instead of running around town. The pool was unbelievable. Just gorgeous. We had it pretty much all to ourselves on Friday, but it was definitely crowded on Saturday. Lots of beautiful people the likes of which I never encountered in my seven years of living in Austin. The pool area also had great waitresses like Dawn who were willing to bring you nice tall mojitoes that went down pretty smooth in the 100-degree heat (but it’s a dry heat!). The security guy checking the list at the pool entrance is probably pretty necessary (I bet a lot of interlopers try to get in there), but the neon green wristbands seemed a bit much. Like we were going to the club or something.

Speaking of clubs, the downstairs bar areas were jammed packed while we were there. Again, with the types of people I’ve never seen in Austin. It looked like a “Most Eligible Dallas” in that place. We stopped by the one of the three bar-type areas that made up “The Living Room” each night, but only for one drink. It was pretty dark and crowded and service was (understandably) hit or miss.

With so many great restaurants in Austin, we did not eat at the W’s restaurant, Trace, but a quick look at the menu definitely has my curiosity piqued.

Overall, the entire staff from valets to check-in managers was great, and efficient. I look forward to our next stay at the W for the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival. I have a feeling that after all the eating we’ll be doing, we’ll need that extra large oversized bathtub.